On This Date In History: On February 11, 1898, Elizabeth Carter was born in the Oklahoma Territory. She went on to become Elizabeth Carter Symon, my grandmother. Four days later, the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor in Cuba. So what was the Maine doing in Cuba to begin with?
Well, Cuba was under the rule of Spain at the time and locals were in the midst of a rebellion. American President William McKinley decided it would be a great idea to send one of the nation’s first modern battleships to Havana on a “friendly” visit and to protect American interests. Seems to me this was an early form of gunboat diplomacy. Mysteriously, the Maine exploded.
A certain newspaper man, William Randolph Hearst, was known for sensational headlines. On This Date in 1898, Hearst newspaper began trumpeting the news of the stricken US naval vessel, claiming that the explosion was “caused by an enemy” and that would suggest Spain since the ship was anchored in Cuba. Never mind that one day after the event there could not have been any responsible investigation. No, Hearst needed to sell papers and a conflict was a great conduit for newspaper sales. Hearst famously is said to have told photographers and artists, “you supply the pictures, I’ll supply the war!” . As time went on, Hearst helped whip up American public opinion by blaring headlines that the Maine was deliberately sabotaged by the Spanish! Why they would do
such a thing seems lost on the Americans as they, and their government, jumped to the conclusion. The US Navy had an inquiry that concluded the ship’s death was the result of a mine. Way too late to make a differnce, in the mid 1970′s, a new research effort concluded that the ship probably exploded due to a fire smoldering in the coal bunker. The fire ignited either the ammunition directly or coal dust. But, don’t let the truth get in the way of a good war. There wer many in the US who wanted the Spanish out of the Western Hemisphere and it coveted the Spanish controlled Philippines in the Pacific. President Cleveland and President McKinley both were reluctant to make any direct attempts to move the Spanish out. But, the Maine explosion and push from the public and the press were too much for McKinley and the Congress to ignore. The type of reporting done with claims of fact being unsubstantiated is known as yellow journalism and was not only practiced by Hearst, but also by his competitor, Joseph Pulitzer.
War was declared on Spain by Congress in April 1898. Under-Secretary of the Navy and former New York Governor Teddy Roosevelt resigned his position to lead a group of volunteers that became known as the Rough Riders. Roosevelt gained fame, became McKinley’s Vice-President and then ascended to the Presidency upon President McKinley’s assassination in Buffalo on Sept 6, 1901, which happens to be the birthday of Benjamin G Symon, my grandfather and my grandmother’s husband. The war with Spain was over before the end of 1898 and Cuba became independent and so did the Philippines….sorta.
See, there were hundreds of thousands of insurgents in the Philippines and the US Army had to pacify them. Many suggested that it was a civil war. By the time Teddy Roosevelt comes to power, Senators start urging the President to withdraw from an “endless civil war” in which “hundreds of thousands” of Filipinos had died and “tens of thousands of American soldiers. Some said we had no business there and it wasn’t worth the effort. The US pledged to stay the course and allow the Philippines to grow as a democracy. This part of the story should have a ring of familiarity.
The Philippines finally had self rule following World War II and the US military presence came to an end in about 1991 when the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo destroyed the huge Subic Bay US Navy base. The Philippines has remained an important US Allie since WWII as the US has been at loggerheads with the Soviet Union and now China and increasingly Russia.
Here is the point of this story: Many people think that the Iraq situation was reminiscent of Vietnam. I would disagree
and suggest that it has very little in common with Vietnam and is much more similar to the Philippines following the Spanish American War. The trouble is that for some reason, the public school system in all states just glosses over from about 1877 until 1929 in the history books. We don’t know much about the Guilded Age, The Spanish American War or World War I. Even Korea isn’t covered much so…people today remember Vietnam and use what limited knowledge of that conflict they they have and try to make a comparison. I would say that “journalists” are particularly guilty of not understanding or knowing history and so they grab Vietnam out of fat air as a comparison. On the surface, it may seem to be the same but more careful inspection shows that Vietnam and Iraq have very little in common but the Philippines and Iraq are much more amenable for compare/contrast analysis. Now, if you want to have a potential future history comparison with Vietnam…watch Afghanistan closely. That has the potential to develop into something truly ugly and lousy and that would be a true comparison. Let us hope that this administration steers the ship carefully.
I won’t make a qualitative assessment of the Philippines situation or current events. But I would encourage you to get some good books about the Spanish American War and the aftermath if you want to find something that holds some similarities to the current situation. History does not repeat itself as its a different time and different place but the parallels in this case are interesting.
Note: Just as a point of reference, the USS Maine was one of the earliest US Battleships. It had a displacement of 6000 tons. In comparison, the Ohio Class of United State Ballistic Missle Nuclear Submarines have a surface displacement of 16,600 tons. The current USS Maine (SSBN 741) is one of this group known as Trident Submarines. The final group of US Battleships, the Iowa Class, had a 45,000 ton displacement. In other words, the Maine was a toy boat by today’s standards.
Weather Bottom Line: It’s a bit early, but all data from the GFS, Canadian and European longer range models all have a consensus. That is we get some rain on Wednesday. The system swings through and a vort lobe swings around behind it bringing us snow showers on Thursday. We are back in the freeze. I’ve seen on TV highs in the mid 30′s for the end of the week but I’m preparing for subfreezing temperatures from Thursday morning through the weekend. You can choose to do otherwise but everything seems to indicate a big pattern shift with decidedly colder air coming in as the pattern shift looks very similar to what we had for much of the winter. Another system runs across the northern tier of states late Friday into Saturday which all models indicate will bring another chance of snow in the Ohio Valley. The GFS wants to throw out an inch on Thursday and about 3-4 inches late Friday night through Saturday. A hunch is that the GFS may be over doing it on snow totals on Saturday but the risk for snow on Thursday and Saturday seems genuine as does the colder, generally sub freezing air. The GFS continues to want to take us out of the cold pattern by Monday afternoon and moderate temperatures…but we’ll see.